Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Triple Play

One of the rarest and most exciting plays in baseball is the triple play or TP. One just occurred Tuesday night, started by the Rays against the Yankees.

It was a very sweet play if you're on the defensive side of course. It went 5-4-3. It also went like lightening. Some complain that baseball is slow, but did you see that? Many plays in baseball seem routine because they occur so often. It’s not really true since the players have practiced continually to make them look easy. The TP is at the other end of the scale. It is very fast and has to have all the players involved on the same page to get it to work. Anyone not up to speed will spoil it.

Tuesday night the Rays pulled it off against the Yankees for the 687th time in professional baseball. That is, since 1876. Russell Martin hits a short chopper to third. Evan Longoria steps on third and sends the ball to Ben Zobrist on second, who whips it to Sean Rodiguez, at first. It was a beautifully executed play. To get the full effect watch it a few times. Please click on the link below to view.

Click here:

In 1973 Brooks Robinson, playing third base for the Orioles, started two 5-4-3 TPs. The first was on July 7 against the Athletics and again on September 20, against the Tigers. This is very rare in itself, but the most interesting fact is that Brooks Robinson is the only major leaguer to hit into four triple plays in his career.

On July 17, 1990, the Twins became the first and the only team in baseball history to turn two TPs in the same game. Playing against the Red Sox they turned two 5-4-3 TPs. Unfortunately, the Twins still lost the game 1-0.

There have been only two game ending unassisted TPs in baseball history. The first was the Tiger's Johnny Neun, in 1927, against the Indians who caught a line drive, tagged the runner and ran to second just ahead of the returning runner. The second one was against the Mets on August 23, 2009, when Eric Bruntlett, of the Phillies, caught a line drive, stepped on second and tagged the runner. So, one each, for the NL and the AL. Both of these feats are pretty spectacular.

The Jays have contributed to the mix as well. On April 22, 1978, the Jays turned their first TP against the White Sox, 1-3-6. To date, the Jays have had 3 TPs for and 6 against. The most spectacular was the unassisted TP against the Jays by Indian second baseman, Asdrubal Cabrera.

The set-up; Kevin Mench on second, Marco Scutaro on first and Lyle Overbay at bat. With the hit and run on, Cliff Lee pitches to Lyle Overbay, who hits it up the middle. Cabrera, with a diving catch (out one, Overbay) stands up on second (out two, Mench) then tag’s Scutaro for the third out. Post Script: We won't mention the famous triple play that got away from Kelly Gruber.

The most “usual” TP is 5-4-3 (79 times). The others in order are 6-4-3 (55) and 4-6-3 (43). The unassisted are with shortstops and second basemen. Only twice with first basemen, like Johnny Neun mentioned above, and Red Sox George Burns, in 1923.

The perfect game, four home runs in a game and the unassisted triple play are right up there with rare baseball feats. They all require timing and luck. You can see a perfect game coming and anticipate a fourth homer. An unassisted triple play is very fast and unpredictable. It’s the luck of the moment and fun to watch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yikes Red Sox !!! The Biggest Pennant Race Collapses

Can the Red Sox halt their disastrous nosedive? Well, the California Angels did - in 1995. On August 9 they were ahead by 11 1/2 games but won just 12 of their next 34.

Meanwhile the Ken Griffey Jr.-led Mariners went 16-3 to pull into a two-game lead before dropping their last two. The Angels rallied to win their final five games. Good enough?

Not quite, the two teams ended up tied, forcing a one-game playoff. Phew, that was close! And how did the reawakened Angels do? Mariner ace Randy Johnson beat 'em 9-1 to put them out of their misery. Now let's go back and retrace some other memorable collapses.

Before there were the Amazin' Mets there were the Miracle Braves. In 1914 the New York Giants had a 10 1/2 game lead late in July. The Boston Braves went 34-10 to win the pennant by the same 10 1/2 games.

On September 1, 1938 the Pirates beat the Giants 6-0 and were seven games ahead of the Cubs. But Chicago finished September with ten straight wins, including
an exciting sweep of Pittsburgh at Wrigley which featured the
'homer in the gloaming". (see photo at right)

At 5:30 in game two of the series on a foggy afternoon the umpire said the ninth inning would be the last. With two out and the count 0-2 player-manager Gabby Hartnett hit one into the first row to thrill the crowd and put the Cubs a game up. It was the most famous home run in baseball between Ruth's called shot (also at Wrigley) of '32 and Thompson's '51 playoff blast. (See next item.) The Cubs went on to win the pennant.

On August 11, 1951 the Brooklyn Dodgers had 13 1/2 game lead. They went 26-22 the rest of the way. Pretty good. But their crosstown enemies, the Giants, won 16 in a row and finished an incredible 37-7 to tie the Bums on the last day of the season. The Giants won the best 2-of-3 playoff series when Billy Thompson hit the "shot heard round the world" with a very nervous rookie named Willie Mays in the on deck circle.

In 1964 the Philadelphia Phillies had a 6 1/2 lead with just twelve games to play. But the Cardinals won eight in a row and the Phillies lost ten in a row and finished one game back.

On August 14, 1969 the Cubs had a 9 1/2 game lead in the brand new National League East. But early in September the Amazin' Mets, who were in the middle of a 10-game winning streak, took two from the Cubbies to pull into first. The Mets went on to have a 9-game winning streak in late September and won the East by 8 games. Chicago lost 14 of their last 20. But they would have had to do a whole lot better to keep pace with New York.

In 1978, with 32 games left, the Red Sox held a 7 1/2 game lead over the Yankees. But they won just three out of seventeen in the first half of September, including four straight at home to New York.

No problem, for the mighty Red Sox won their last eight games to win it all. Nope, not quite. The Yankees had gone 52-23 including an 8-3 finish to force a one-game playoff at Fenway. ... Bucky Dent. Nuff said.

At the half-season point in 1987 the Toronto Blue Jays were 46-35. Not bad. From then until the last week of the season they went 50-24 (.675). After taking the first 3 games of a 4-game series from the second place Tigers they were 3 1/2 games up. Lookin' good, Blue Jays. They lost the last game - in 13 innings after a Kirk Gibson homer tied it up in the ninth - okay, still, no sweat. But then Flanagan, Key, and Stieb each lost as the Jays were swept by the Brewers. The Jays went to Detroit for the final series and lost all three by one run to finish two games back. Ouch.

On September 6, 2009 the Detroit Tigers ended a 6-game winning streak with a 7-game lead in the AL Central Division. They won just three of their next nine and their lead was down to two games. After winning five of their next six, though they had a 3-game lead on September 26. They split their next four and were three up on the last day of September.

But the Twins swept their final three-game series and forced a playoff game, which Minnesota won in twelve innings. The Tigers had made history, becoming the first team since there has been a World Series to lose a 3-game lead with just four games to play.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The real surprises of 2011

It may be too early to take a look back at the results of the 2011 season. After all, the wildcard spots in both leagues are still very much up for grabs. But after looking at the results of last night’s games, things have become a lot clearer. All the division results are now in. So what were the surprises?

The NL East was a foregone conclusion considering the pitching rotation of the Phillies. Indeed, the way many pundits and fans feel, the result of the coming World Series is a foregone conclusion. The big surprise would have been if the Phillies hadn’t won the east.

The Brewers went out during the off season with the expressed desire to buy or trade themselves to a division championship. Even with their stumble towards the end as the always-dangerous Cardinals seemed to be knocking at the door, they have clearly been the class of their division. No big surprise here that they took the NL Central.

The NL West was the really surprising division in the MLB this year. Who could have predicted that the D-backs would have been standing atop the pile at the end of regular season play? I’m not alone when I say I thought the Giants were a shoe-in to take that honor. If it wasn’t them, then I thought it would be Rockies or perhaps the Dodgers (who might have done better if they weren’t featuring that ownership sideshow all season). And who would have thought that the Padres could fall so far?

The stars seem to be aligning in the AL East as they always do. Hate the Yankees as much as you like, but you have to admit that they know how to field a winner better than anyone else. Yes, it’s due to the money that they command, but so what? Would you complain if your team could go out and buy a contender every year? The Rays were the real surprise in this division in 2011. I fully expected them to not come close to even a sniff of the playoffs. It’s a tribute to their management that they keep churning out quality players and fielding competitive teams. The real surprise to me is that they have such miserable fan support. (For last night’s tilt with the Jays, they managed to get a good crowd only by offering free parking!) I remember seeing empty seats when they were in the Series in ’08. Come on. Does this city even deserve such a good team?

In the AL Central, the Tigers have clearly been the class of the division all year. Verlander is putting up Cy Young numbers and they have a solid team. Again, the surprise here is that the Twins were so bad. Riddled with injuries, they struggled all year where they perennially compete. It was sort of sad to see. I was happy that Cleveland was doing so well for awhile. It was clear that they didn’t have the horses to go all the way, but it was nice to see.

The AL West was no surprise. I kept a list from the first day of the season of what I thought the standings would be at the final bell, and the only division that I aced was the AL West. Does anyone else also feel really sad for the Mariners? They just can’t seem to put it together and 2011 was no different.

As for the Wild Cards, the only surprise in the list of contenders, as stated above, is the Rays. Judging by the standings at the beginning of the month, I figured the AL East and AL wildcard would have been all wrapped up by now. The Red Sox’s September stumble is approaching epic proportions. That choking sound you hear in the distance are ball fans all over New England. You’ve gotta feel for them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who has the momentum?

The races will soon be decided, but how will it turn out and why?

The American League Divisional Championship will boil down to the Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox and Rangers. I think that neither the Rays nor the Angles will be able to play through to the wild card spot. That leaves the above teams to battle it out for the AL pennant.

The Yankees as usual have peaked at just the right time and yet again going 14 and 7 for September. Money really does buy the experience to get to the postseason. They have gone 6-4 in their last ten and are on the way to dealing the Rays out of the wild card. The ageless, Mariano Rivera, has 44 saves and an even more impressive ERA of just .90 and a WHIP of .88. Team pitching has an ERA of 3.69 and WHIP of 1.312. Offensively they have the leading 211 home runs but only a .266 BA, which make them vulnerable.

The Tigers I mentioned last week. They have with a 15 and 5 record this month. Scherzer has gone a poor 3-4 lately and Porcello has a 4-3 record. Verlander is still hot and the closer Valverde is now at 46 saves. Leyland has added Betemet over Inge at third base, upping the offensive side considerably.

Boston is in the dumper this month with the worst record of the contenders at 5 and 16. The offence is average but the starting pitching has gone away, putting lots of pressure on a well-worn bullpen.

Texas is on a roll going 12 and 5 this month, much like Detroit, and just at the right time. Mark Napoli and Josh Hamilton are the strong offensive side at 26 and 23 home runs each, adding to the best team BA of .281. Pitching has a team WHIP of 1.252 for the best of the contenders and an ERA of 3.84

So how does this all match up? In the first rounds it will be the Yankees against the Tigers. Detroit won the season series against he Yanks this year. Detroit is cooling off. Detroit will have to be much better than their season record to pull off a series win. Brennan Boesch and Joel Zumaya are out and he Tigers could sure use them against the Yankees. For offensive starters, the Yankees are a better team. For pitching the Yankees as a whole team are, again, just a slight bit better in WHIP unless they include AJ Burnett and then they are worse. The Tigers would love that. It will go the distance and, sadly, I think the Yankees might just take it from the Tigers. As I said earlier, money buys experience, and dollar for dollar the Yankees will prevail against Tigers. The Tigers are well prepared for next year with the youngest team in the AL playoffs. The Yankees, as the oldest team, will have come the end of a great era in baseball. Wholesale changes will be in store for them next year.

Going to the season end, the Yankees have a much tougher schedule against the Rays and the Red Sox than the Tigers, who play the Indians and Royals. (I love the balanced schedule Bug Selig introduced, not).

Watching Red Sox and Rangers will not be a pretty sight. In every regard, the Red Sox are much weaker than the Rangers. The Rangers are on a tear and the Red Sox just can’t seem to catch break with their pitching. The pitching staff has an ERA of 4.14. Not good enough for the post season. The only tight battle will be when Jonathan Pabelbon and Neftali Feliz duke it out. Offensively the Red Sox have lost their series to the Rangers 4-6. With some short-term injuries and the likes of Youkilis and JD Drew being questionable, the Red Sox will have a tough time against a healthy Ranger offence.

For the end season schedule between these two Texas has the Athletics and then the Mariners and the Red Sox have the Orioles and Yanks.

For the next round it will be the Yankees and Rangers. The Rangers will prevail. And the Rangers will lose to the Phillies. (The Phillies have just lost six straight. I hope that's not the momentum they want). It's been such a good year (98-58), it’s hard not to go with the Phillies, they are a team of destiny this year. Good on Doc.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Outstanding Rookie Pitchers

Earlier I wrote about the odds of Blue Jay Brett Lawrie or Yankee Jesus Montero going on to have great careers after their impressive debuts. But this time it's all about pitching prospects.

There are a few good (but not great) rookie hurlers this year. For starters let's talk about starters. In the AL, Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson is 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA and a fair 1.19 walks and hits per inning. Seattle Mariner Micheal Pineda, an American League All-Star, has tailed off lately but he's still 9-10 with a lousy team. His 3.72 ERA is good, he has 171 K's, and an excellent WHIP of 1.08. Ivan Nova of the Yankees is 16-4 but with a higher 1.33 WHIP and a 3.62 ERA. Any of them could be Rookie of the Year in a season where there have been no great position playing rookies. Mark Trumbo and Eric Hosmer lead a pretty weak class.

In the National League the Mets' Dillon Gee is 12-6 but his WHIP and ERA are both less than spectacular. Brandon Beachy of the Braves is 7-2 plus a lot of no-decisions. He has 160 strikeouts in 135 innings, a 1.19 WHIP and a 3.58 ERA. Philadelphia's Vance Worley is 11-2 with a 2.85 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP. Let's talk relievers. Could a reliever be rookie of the year? Well, the last two American League ROYs have been relievers. Jordan Walden, the Angels' closer, has 31 saves and might get the nod over Hellickson, Pineda and Nova.

But the cream of the rookie crop is Craig Kimbrel, the Braves' closer. He's smashed Neftali Feliz's 2010 record for rookie saves with 45 in 77 appearances, and has 124 K's in 75 innings. He gets my vote. That kind of debut reminds you of Firpo Marberry. He had 52 saves in three years (1924 to '26) and turned the Senators into winners by finishing up for the Washington starters not named Walter Johnson. That was a pretty impressive number of saves (not recorded then) in an age when relievers were very rarely used. NL rookie position players are not doing much better than their American League counterparts. Who could possibly beat out Kimbrel? Maybe teammate Freddie Freeman (20, 74, .287) but I doubt it.

And now a quick walk down memory lane at some other great pitching debuts. In 1957 the Cubs' Dick Drott won 15 games. In May he struck out 15 Braves including Hank Aaron three times. But the next year he had arm troubles and was never the same again. The very next year George Witt had a great start with the Pirates. He was 9-2 with a 1.61 ERA. In his sophomore season he was 0-7, 6.93. He finished 2-13 after that glorious beginning.

The Red Sox have had a history of promising rookie hurlers. In 1945, his first year David "Boo" Ferriss was the Rookie of the Year. He won his first eights starts, then went on to win 13 more for a 21-10 record. The next year (with everyone back from WWII) he went 25-6. Ferriss was the most dominant pitcher in the game. But a cold, rainy night in Cleveland and a torn labrium effectively ended his career.

Fifteen years later Don Schwall was another Rookie of the Year for the Red Sox going 15-7, 3.92 (pretty good for Fenway). The next year he was 9-15, 4.92 and was dealt to the Pirates. He would win just 25 more games in six years before packing it in.

Mike Nagy went 12-2. 3.11 in '69 and was another Red Sox Rookie of the Year, lifting the hopes of the New England faithful that he would replace Jim Lonborg as the ace of the Boston staff. But injuries did him in and he won just eight more games over his six-year career. He was out of baseball by the time the Red Sox went to the World Series in 1975.

The Orioles had three great pitching prospects in the 60's. 19-year old Wally Bunker was rookie of the year in 1964 on the strength of a 19-5 season. But he tailed off after his first season and was eventually dealt to Kansas City and had just 41 wins over his last eight years in the majors. Tom Phoebus (14-9) won in the ROY award in 1967 and managed 29 victories over his next two seasons before fizzing out.

In J. R. Richard's Major League debut he took the mound for the second game of a 1971 doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants - including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Bobby Bonds. Richard struck out 15 Giants, including Mays three times. He tied a record for strikeouts in a debut. From then until 1975, Richard threw no more than 72 innings in a season. From 1976 to 1980, he was one of the premier pitchers in the majors. (His slider was only 98 miles per hour, but his fastball was 103.) On July 30, 1980, however, Richard suffered a stroke and collapsed while playing a game of catch before a game, and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to remove a life-threatening blood clot in his neck. His condition brought a sudden end to his major league career at the age of 30.

The Texas Rangers made pitching phenom David Clyde the number one overall pick in the 1973 MLB draft. He received a $125,000 signing bonus, the highest bonus ever given to a draft pick at the time. Clyde won his first ever Major League start, before 37,000 fans, a Ranger record at the time. But he finished the season with a record of 4-8 and a 5.01 ERA. In '74 Clyde started 21 games and ended up 3-9 with a 4.38 ERA. The next year he started one game, had arm problems and was sent to the minors.

Perhaps at the top of the rookie folk hero pitchers list is Mark "Bird" Fidrych of the Detroit Tigers. In 1976 Fidrych was 19-9 in his rookie year but, plagued by injury, he won just 10 more games in a career that was over four years later. (I wrote earlier about the "Bird' and his antics.)

In 1981 Fernando Valenzuela, a rookie starter for the Dodgers after pitching in 10 games in relief the previous season, threw five shutouts in his first seven starts and won eight straight complete-game wins, allowing a total of four runs! In his three home starts Valenzuela attracted crowds of 50,511, 49,408 and 53,906 including many truckloads of fans from Mexico. Valenzuela would finish 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA in a season that lost a number of games to a labor dispute.

Dwight "Doc" Gooden, a.k.a. Dr. K, came onto the scene in 1984 going 17-9 with the New York Mets at the age of 19. He quickly developed a reputation with his 98 mph fastball and sweeping curve. On July 10, 1984, Gooden became the youngest player to appear in an All-Star game. Gooden won 17 games (the most by a 19-year-old since Wally Bunker's 19). His 276 strikeouts broke Herb Score's rookie record of 245 (in 1955). No flash-in-the-pan, Gooden pitched one of the most statistically dominating single seasons in baseball history winning the Triple Crown the next year with 24 wins, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA (the second lowest in the Live Ball era trailing only Bob Gibson's 1.12 (in '68). Though he had his personal problems later on Gooden wound up with 194 wins.

In Kerry Wood's first start with the Cubs in 1998 he threw a one-hit, no walk shutout and struck out 20, tying Roger Clemens' record for a nine-inning game and breaking Bill Gillickson's single-game rookie record of 18 strikeouts in 1980. Wood and Bob Feller (1936) are the only two pitchers to strike out their age in one game. Wood had been a high school phenomenon but he was beset by injuries in the big leagues and has been relegated to the bullpen over the past few years.

The most recent rookie pitching phenomenon of course was Steven Strasburg. Drafted number one overall by Washington he signed a record-breaking four-year $15.1 million contract and debuted on June 8, 2010 against the Pirates.

A Sports Illustrated columnist termed it "the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen." Strasburg won, pitching seven innings, with two earned runs, no walks and 14 strikeouts. Over thirty of his pitches were clocked at 98 mph or better, two over 100. In his second and third starts he broke J.R. Richard's record for most strikeouts in a pitcher's first three starts. Soon after though Strasburg was placed on the disabled list. Eventually he was diagnosed as having ulnar collateral ligament which would require Tommy John surgery and 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation.

After another few hours of research I am ready to conclude that it's better (and healthier) for pitchers to start out slow. Hot flame throwers sure seem to burn out fast.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

And now for something a little out of the ordinary

I ran across the following video this past week and thought it would make a very interesting posting for anyone who’s really interested in baseball. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m sure all of use knew a bit of this. Hands up, how many of you have ever cut a baseball in half? Anyone here ever unwind one?

Well, now you know how they’re made. I thank you for your attention!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are the Tigers Ready?

It has been an unexpected set of wins for the Tigers. Now sitting at 12 straight wins, they are in a good position for post-season play and against the Yankees to boot. Are they up to the task? Are the pieces in place? Are they as good as the 2006 or 1984 teams?

Everyone is talking about Justin Verlander and his truly remarkable run to 23 wins so far this season (in 1968 Denny McLain won 31). Max Scherzer has a win/loss percentage of .636 and Doug Fister, picked up from the Mariners, is .833 and Rick Porcello is .636. Brad Penny is having a five hundred year at 10/10 rounding out a staff where everyone else has a winning season. I suspect, however, that Brad Penny, with some very weak starts of late, will be lower in the rotation for the post-season, if at all.

The team starting pitching stats for the season so far are a win/loss of .587, an ERA of 4.06 and a WHIP of 1.321, showing their slow start to the season. This resurgence was not as predicted, but good pitching still beats good hitting and the Tigers have good pitching and it's getting better. Good timing.

As with the pitching: the Tigers hitting had been suspect at the start of the season. They now have 152 homers, 677 RBI, a BA of .275 and an OBP of .338.
(Delmon Young is in for the injured Brennan Boesch. Young has 8 HR's and a .313 BA. Not up to the Boesch numbers).

In 1984, the Tigers started the season 35 and 5. That team did not have any hitter over .300 but did have 187 HR's, 788 RBI and a team BA of .271. The pitching combined for a 104/58 season and a win/loss percentage of .642. Some notable names from then are: Jack Morris, Danny Petry, Milt Wilcox and relievers, Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez. And for the hitting, they had Lance Parish, Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson. It was a pretty strong team on all counts. In the WS they beat the Padres 4/1.

Only two players from the ill-fated 2006 team remain, Justin Verlander and Brandon Inge. They have something to prove this time out. For the regular season in 2006, the pitching went with a win/loss % of .586, an ERA of 3.84 and a WHIP 0f 1.318. The hitting had 203 HR's, 785 RBI, a BA of .274 and OBP of 0.329. This team went 95/67, had a very strong post-season and lost to the Cards in the WS, falling completely apart in every category possible. It was a very embarrassing series for the Tigers. Their stats showed a better team than they played in the WS. They managed to beat the Yankees and Athletics to get the pennant and then choked. In the WS they had a batting average of .199 and OPB of .246. The pitching staff had an ERA of 3.00 and the Cardinals 2.05 and a Tiger WHIP of 1.405 against the Cards .909. The 2006 team had the lumber but was worse in pitching, but should still have won the World Series. The choke was a surprise for all to watch and could not be predicted by the regular season play. I do not even want to count up the number of errors committed. Just awful.

The 2011 Tigers have fewer home runs than the rest of this year’s contenders and have a better BA than everyone but The Red Sox and a higher OBP than everyone but the Rangers.

If the Tigers can keep finding ways to win (as they have of late) this team is nearly as good as the 1984 team. The 2011 team has recently played like winners. They have eeked out wins from potential losses. That’s what winners do. The Tigers are on track.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

AJ Ain't the First Mistake

In the midst of a mini-series I am doing on notable MLB rookies, I am inspired - once again - to do a follow up to something that John wrote. In his latest blog he lambasted the Yankees for acquiring and using the sporadically effective A.J. Burnett. I remember Bob McCown, Toronto's most respected radio sports personality, chastising the Blue Jays when they signed Burnett a few years back. McCown said, quite rightly, that Burnett is at best a .500 pitcher, and therefore not worth big bucks or perhaps even a spot in a team's rotation.

I completely agree with McCown and even with John (for once). The Yankees should never have signed him. In their starting rotation Burnett should be behind CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, D.J. Mitchell (from their AAA club), Joba Chamberlain when he comes back from Tommy John surgery next year, Whitey Ford, and Spud Chandler. In other words BURNETT SHOULD NOT BE IN THEIR STARTING ROTATION! Just look at his numbers compared to the rest of the Yankee starters. Even the Yankees don't score enough runs to get that guy wins.

As a Yankee fan I have been repeatedly dumbfounded as to why they continue to acquire and pay huge salaries to semi-talented, briefly successful pitchers. They have done much better of late (Sabathia, Colon, and Garcia) but Burnett reminds us that they can still be stupid. And it is a long history of stupidity. Let me take you back to some of the Yankee front office's brilliant decisions. Yankee haters will enjoy being reminded of these idiotic acquisitions.

In his first nine seasons Ed Whitson had pitched for five teams. Does that tell you something? In 1984 he helped the San Diego Padres to a World Series championship. Steibrenner saw him throw a gem against the Cubs in the playoffs, but neglected the fact that Whitson didn't make it out of the first inning (5 hits, 3 runs) in his only start against the Tigers in the World Series. Whitson had gone 14 - 8 in the regular season - not bad, but...

The year before he was 5 -7 (with a 4.30 ERA.) and that made his career won-lost record an unimpressive 39 -48. No wonder the Yankees gave him $4.4 million! That was big money in those days. Whitson was never comfortable in New York. Eventually he refused to pitch at Yankee Stadium because he was booed so badly. With terrific run support he made it to 10-8 (with a 4.88 ERA) and then he tanked. He went 5-7 the rest of the way and his ERA his next - and thankfully- final year in New York was a tidy 7.54.

No way the Yanks would repeat that mistake. Think not? Four years later they signed Andy Hawkins from the Padres for more big money. How'd he do? His ERA's with the Yanks paralleled Whitson's - 4.80 and 5.37. Great.

In 1995 the Yankees signed Kenny Rogers for $20 million (over 4 years). He won 12 of his first 15 that year, but like Whitson his ERA was over 4.50. And his second year he looked a lot like Andy Hawkins (a 5.65 ERA) and he won only six. He constantly complained and easy-going Joe Torre said he was one of the most difficult players he'd ever managed. Fortunately the Yanks were able to trade Rogers to Oakland (by paying them his salary) for Scott Brosius, who was a big part of three World Series Championships.

In 2001 the Bronx Bombers gave a 22 million contract to Atlanta Brave reliever Steve Karsay. That was a lot for a reliever who'd had only one or two good seasons. He was solid in 78 games his first year in New York but pitched only eight times over the next three years due to elbow and shoulder problems before being released.

Allow me to throw a trade in among these wretched free agent signings. The Yankees did throw in money into after all. At end of the 2003 season Dodger Kevin Brown had almost 200 wins under his belt. He was a horse and he was coming off a 14-9, 2.39, 185 strikeout season. But, he was 38 years old. The Dodgers, who got troubled Jeff Weaver in exchange for him, were somewhat glad to be rid of him. He was often injured and he had a bad temper. (Once, while he was having a shower a teammate flushed the toilet. Brown destroyed the toilet with a bat.) And, Brown was rumored (later confirmed) to be using performance-enhancing drugs along with teammate ace reliever Eric Gagne.

In his first year with the Yankees Brown was 10-3 with a 3.96 ERA though he had tailed off by the time he gave up three runs in six innings to the Orioles on September 3. After being lifted Brown took his frustrations out by punching the dugout wall, breaking a bone in his hand. Even Joe Torre got upset about that stunt. Brown ended up having to apologize to his teammates for letting them down during the pennant race.

He came back and pitched - and lost - two games at the end of the season and then pitched well in the '04 ALDS, allowing the Twins one run in six innings. But against the Red Sox in the ALCS in under two innings he allowed five runs, two on a home run by the hated David Ortiz. He was sidelined by injuries the next year and finished 4-7 with a 6.50 ERA.

Jaret Wright had a history of injuries and had won as many as 12 games only twice. But like Karsay he was coming of a good season with the Atlanta Braves so in 2004 the Yankees gave him a $21 million contract. He was never asked to be the ace in New York (in spite of all that money) but he was still awful, running up a monstrous 6.08 ERA his first year and he was relegated to the bullpen the next year, where he spent most of his time on the DL. Brian Cashman shipped him to Baltimore in 2006 for next to nothing. He retired a year later at the age of 31.

In 2005 the Yankees gave a $22 million contract to reliever Kyle Farnsworth of the ... you guessed it ... Atlanta Braves. He'd saved ten games the year before. He would save six the next year and just one over his last two years with the Yanks.

But Farnsworth was not their biggest new star in 2005. After their collapse to the Red Sox the year before they badly needed starting pitching. They signed Randy Johnston three years after his glorious 3-0 World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The aging Big Unit went 17 -8 and 17 - 11 in his two years in New York but his ERA the second year was 5.00.

But their really big acquisition was - a name that makes the Yankee faithful cringe - Carl Pavano. He had a great fastball and a good slider but he was 39 - 50 in his first seven seasons. So what? He'd held the Yankees to a single run in nine innings in the 2003 Series and he was 18-8 for the Marlins in 2004. So the Yanks handed him $40 million.

In four years in New York he won just nine games, perhaps due to his 5.00+ ERA. He was constantly injured - or claimed to be - and missed the entire '06 season. To be fair though, when Pavano was healthy, he was still no good. After complaining he had been mistreated in New York he left as a free agent and somehow regained his health, winning 31 games over the next two years.

The Yanks were again in desperation mode in 2007 and Roger Clement and his agent took full advantage - $28 million for one year. He gave up a lot more runs than he had for Boston or Toronto but he was still 77-38 for the Bombers so they didn't do too badly that time.

But that same year they committed $46 million to a young Japanese phenom named Kei Igawa. In 16 major league appearances before 2008 (none since) his ERA was 6.66. His contract finally ends this year. Again, money well spent.

Okay, one more trade - ANOTHER guy coming off a single good season with the Braves. The Yankees gave up Melky Cabrera for Javier Vasquez. He was another Burnett - a .500 (142 - 139) pitcher. Sure he was 15-10, 2.87 in 2009 but his career ERA was over 4.00. Heck, it was 4.91 the previous time he'd spent with the Yankees. At the end of that year (2004) Vasquez gave up a grand slam and a two-run homer to Johnny Damon in game seven of the ALCS. Why not get him back! How did Vasquez do last year? How about 10-10, 5.32 and 32 home runs allowed in 31 games.

So you see, there were a lot of disasters before A.J. Burnett, he's just the last in a proud Yankee history of free agent stinkers. Apologies to Yankee fans for digging up memories of those train wrecks.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

As the playoffs loom...

We’re now in the last lap of the 2011 season, the games left now less than 2 dozen. Which teams will make it into this year’s playoffs is becoming more and more clear; some are already foregone conclusions. Who knows how it will all shake out? One thing I do know is that once the last of 2011’s game dust settles, it will be very late. In fact it might well be too late.

Baseball has been playing a dangerous game of chicken with fall weather for years, allowing the season to end later and later as broadcasting demands change. The bottom line is always top of mind with baseball’s owners and they want to milk the playoffs for every last dime.

The overriding idea seems to be that folks are more inclined to watch games on the weekend than during the week. Scheduling is predicated around that. Compounding the problem is the college football season starting up, not to mention the NFL. Here in Canada, it’s hockey.

As our weather patterns are changing, weird things are happening. It can become unseasonably cold at unexpected times. Rain is certainly in the mix with hurricanes being the really frightening factor in MLB’s playoff scheduling. Unlike football, baseball can’t be played in rain or snow. If it gets too cold, that isn’t good either with the game suffering as pitchers can’t hold the ball properly and batters’ hands suffer from badly hit balls. Generally, good baseball can’t be played in bad weather. And the playoffs is where fans expect to see the best baseball.

Now we’re looking at another, albeit shorter, round being added to the playoff schedule. It will be talked about this offseason and seems to have increasing support among owners and players. Who wouldn’t want an additional chance to make the playoffs?

Problem is, sooner or later baseball is going to reach the tipping point. Many teams play outdoors in climates known for dicey fall weather. Detroit and Milwaukee seem posed to play in October this year, Minnesota might be back in the hunt again next year. All of these teams could face lengthy delays due to inclement weather, and one of these days it will happen. Can you imagine a World Series being unable to finish due to bad weather? To expect to play in northern cities in November is asking for trouble, yet we’re heading in that direction.

Anybody have thoughts on this? What sort of contingency plans MLB should put in place? Should the season go back to the 154 games so the playoffs could start in late September? Does anybody really want to watch baseball in a frozen stadium in November?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

AJ a Bust

It is good to be back in the thick of things baseball wise. I have been in communicato for weeks with no internet access. So I would like to thank my long time buddy, Larry Toman, for some great blogs, adding so much to the Late Innings postings.

Well, again it is September and the boys from the Bronx are nearly ready for October. They have done it in style as they always do. Either as pennant winners or wild card, they will be there.

Their hitters have proven to be tops in the league; Teixeira, Granderson, Cano, Martin are having very good years. The Yankees have hit more homers than anyone else (200) and have a team BA of .268 on the season. They are two games ahead of Boston as of today. In last night's game, AJ Burnett served up 4 runs allowing a tie until the eleventh. Baltimore won and AJ managed to get another no decision.

The Yankee's entire pitching staff have combined for .621 win/loss record and a combined ERA of 3.75. Also they have a WHIP of 1.294. Not bad for a whole team. This now brings us to AJ Burnett. At 34 he is still younger than Bartolo Colon who is having a sub-par season himself, still better then AJ.

AJ Burnett for the year-to-date has a win/loss percentage of just .450, an ERA of 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.437, a pretty poor year even for him. At 16.5 million a year he should be much better. CC Sabathia gets the premier money of 23 million but has the stats to support that (if anyone does for that kind of money). He has never had a losing season in this his eleventh year. Now AJ, well, he is working on his fifth losing effort.

When the Jays signed AJ from the Marlins in 2006, he performed exactly as always, a .500 record (really a .495). I could not figure why the Jays paid him 13 million. In 2008 he had a spectacular year, 18 and 10 and a league leading 231 strikeouts. Of course, that was the last year of his contract. The Yankees signed him and he is back to his usual self: average.

Even in last night's game the fans booed him. Of course, they saw him pitch 3 wild ones to bring his total of wild pitching to 23. Well ahead of the rest of American pitchers by 9. He also failed to make two important fielding plays where his head was just not in it. The fans are fed up with his antics, as anyone should be. He is very high-maintenance with a psychologist on his personal staff and he needs to be hand held for each game. Black eyes and divorce have put him under the microscope as these things seem to affect his performance. Basically, it was great for the Jays to unload AJ just at the right time and the Yankees made a long-term deal, tying them up for five years. In the three years he has been with the Yanks, AJ has amassed a .478 win/loss record, an ERA of 4.82 and a WHIP of 1.42 and 28 no-decisions. Worth $16.5 million? I doubt it very much. Joe Girardi has talked of the "new" approach to his mechanics and yet he still has lost four in a row. AJ is a bust. The Yankees have three more years on that contract. Will they keep him? I doubt it.

The Yankees will need better from its starting rotation to play through. All cannot be left up to Rivera, who still is amazing. Detroit has Verlander ($12.75 million) at 21 wins and counting. Boston has Becket, Lester, Lackey, Buckholz, Papelbon and a .518 win/loss and an ERA of 4.21 for the starting six. It is better for the Yanks to go with the six-man rotation just to keep AJ from another start. Might help in their bid for the pennant.

My favorite baseball button is "I love New York in SECOND place". I think they will not get home field advantage this year nor do I think the Yanks will play through to the WS, but with them, you never can count them out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Best Starts of All Time

In researching a new blog I invariably uncover far too much to include in one article. As I sat down to write my latest, about the most promising starts that rookies have had, I realized that there have been simply too many great rookie seasons to include in one blog. So I am splitting the topic into three blogs, namely: best starts by a rookie who was not a pitcher, most promising starts by a rookie pitcher, and biggest (rookie) busts of all time. Here comes the first. Keep in mind that I am just talking position players here – no pitchers – and that all these guys went on to have fine careers – or else they would be appearing in the upcoming famous flops article.

This year's highest achieving rookies are all three first basemen – Freddie Freeman (18 home runs and a .291 average) of the Braves, the Angels' Mark Trumbo (26 home runs and 80 RBIs) and Eric Hosmer of the Royals (.287 with 15 homers). Nothing all that impressive. I think a pitcher will probably win it this year.

Just recently called up to the show, however, are Brett Lawrie, the Jays' rookie third baseman (about whom Rick has written a couple of times) who is off to a great start and Jesus Montero, a highly-touted catcher the Yankees just debuted. Montero didn't do much his first three games but he belted a pair of home runs on Monday. Maybe one of those guys will win the Rookie award next year.

How about last year? Well, Jason Heyward of the Braves, who hit a 3-run home run in his much anticipated debut, ended up with 29 doubles, 18 homers, and 91 walks, but he struck out 128 times. NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, the Giants' rookie catcher, hit .305 and belted 18 home runs.

And now ... here are some rookie standouts from recent years, going from most recent to longest ago. (Don't worry, I won't go back to the 1890's like I often do.)

Dustin Pedroia, who had started with a .191 average and just two home runs in 31 games in 2007, hit .317 with 39 doubles in 2008, his first full year.

In 2007 Ryan Braun hit .324 and had 34 home runs and 97 RBI in just 113 games. Troy Tulowitzki had 33 doubles, 24 homers, 99 ribbies, and a .291 average.

In 2006 Marlin rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez had 46 doubles and 17 home runs and hit .292, but he struck out 128 times. Phillie sensation Ryan Howard, who'd hit 22 homers in 88 games in his debut, belted 58 and added 149 RBIs in 2006.

In 2001 each league had a star. Ichiro Suzuki led the AL with a .350 average based on 242 hits, won a Gold Glove and led the league in stolen bases with 56. In the senior circuit Albert Pujols hit .329, had 194 hits, 37 home runs, and 130 RBIs. Now that's a rookie season! He was the first rookie Cardinal named to the All-Star team since 1955! Who was that 1955 Cardinal rookie sensation? Okay I won't keep you hanging, it was Luis Arroyo, who had one other good year – for the Yanks in '61.

In 1999 Carlos Beltran had a great all around season batting .293 while scoring 112 runs and knocking in 108. He stole 27 bases and hit 22 home runs. The year before Todd Helton of the Rockies ripped 37 doubles, 25 home runs, had 97 RBIs and hit .317.

In 1998 Todd Helton of the Rockies had 37 doubles, 25 home runs, 97 RBIs and hit .315.

In 1997 Boston rookie shortstop phenom Nomar Garciaparra had 209 hits including 44 doubles, 11 triples, and 30 home runs.

In 1993 Dodger Mike Piazza batted .318 with 35 homers, 112 RBIs and a .561 slugging percentage.

In 1987 Oakland's Mark McGwire, who was still the size of a normal human being in his rookie year, led the American League with 49 home runs and 118 RBIs.

In 1964 Dick Allen of the Phillies had 38 doubles, 29 homers, 99 ribbies, and a .318 average.

In 1953 Harvey Kuenn had 34 homers, 144 RBIs and a .322 average.

In 1950 Boston's Walt Dropo hit .322 and had 34 home runs and 144 RBIs.

In 1939 Ted Williams had 185 hits for a .327 average, 31 home runs, 145 RBIs and walked 107 times. (He wouldn't swing at a bad pitch even if he could hit it even as a rookie.)

In 1936 Joe Dimaggio scored a whopping 132 runs and knocked in 125, hit 44 doubles, 15 triples, 29 home runs, and hit .323.

In 1926 Pittsburgh's Paul Waner hit 35 doubles, 22 triples, and had a .336 average.

My Top Ten (Offensive) Rookie Seasons:

2007 Ryan Braun
2006 Ryan Howard
2001 Albert Pujols (and Ichiro Suzuki if he was actually a rookie)
1997 Nomar Garciaparra
1993 Mike Piazza
1975 Fred Lynn and Jim Rice
1953 Harvey Kuenn
1939 Ted Williams
1936 Joe Dimaggio


To qualify as a rookie a player must have had no more than 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on the active roster in a previous season. Ya, but ... Hideo Nomo (1995), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) had starred in the Nippon Professional Baseball League and Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Sam Jethroe had played lots in the Negro Leagues. Should any of them have won? I say no.

And now for some fun;

Who had the most consecutive Rookie of the Year winners on the same team?

Well, the Senators/Twins went on a pretty good run between 1959 and 1967. Bob Allison (30 home runs) won in '59 and Albie Pearson won in '60. (They were still the old Washington Senators then). In 1964 Tony Oliva heralded great things for the Twins with 32 homers, 94 RBIs and a .323 average. And in 1967 Rod Carew won it.

Very impressive, but not consecutive. Amazingly, from 1992 to 1996 the Los Angeles Dodgers had a record five consecutive rookies of the year. They were Eric Karros, Mike Piazza (see above), Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth.

Which club had the best rookies at the same position? Well it's sort of a tie.

In 1975 the Red Sox had two outstanding new outfielders. Fred Lynn, who was terrific defensively, hit .331 and had 47 doubles, 21 home runs and 105 RBIs. Fellow rookie Jim Rice hit .309 and had 22 home runs and 102 RBIs.

In 1958 Orlando Cepeda of the Giants won the NL Rookie of the Year Award after going 25, 96, .312. And the very next year the Giants had a real problem because that year's Rookie of the Year was Willie McCovey, another Giant first baseman! He hit 13 home runs in just 52 games and batted .354. No DH. What to do?

Hope you enjoyed this look at outstanding rookies, stay tuned for great young hurlers and famous flashes-in-the-pan.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Just how good is Brett Lawrie?

We’ve discussed the Blue Jays’ marquee player trade with Milwaukee during the last off-season a few times since Late Innings came to the internet back in late February. Mostly the discussion was based around: is he ready for The Show and can the team live with more errors from the left side of the infield? This was back in the days of Edwin Encarnacion holding down the hot corner and we all know how that went.

However, the Jays’ brain trust decided their blue chip prospect required more work learning his new position despite some pretty solid numbers he put up in Spring Training. In Las Vegas, he lit up the night with his dazzling presence at the plate, some solid play at 3rd base (after an error-filled start to the AAA season, mostly caused by the hard infield). It looked as if he was ready for The Show. Then Lawrie got plunked on the hand by a pitch with some broken bones resulting. That took well over a month to heal. Once back on the field in Vegas, he took up where he left off, batting in the high .300s and making all the plays. Finally, Lawrie could be denied no longer and (sounding reluctant to do it) the Jays brought him up.

So what’s the kid from Langley, BC done since his call up on August 5th? He’s only led all 2011 rookies with a .330 average, 17 extra base hits (including 4 triples and 7 HR), 20 RBIs in only 27 games, stolen 4 bases, and made some dazzling plays at the hot corner. Not only that, he’s been able to delivered in the clutch, most recently in Baltimore on September first when his two-run blast provided a come-from-behind win for his team. In other words, the kid has delivered a pretty convincing impression of an all-star.

As the days go on and the hits pile up, the media (at least in Canada) has been taking more notice of the Jays’ young phenom. The attention ratcheting up hasn’t seemed to make a dent in the manner in which he goes about his business. It’s all about the team, he repeatedly insists. “I’m just playing the game and having fun, and just competing.” He also apparently brings an exciting electricity to the dugout and club house.

It’s a pretty heady situation for Jays fans. If this is what the kid is really all about and he’s still wet behind the ears, what can we expect in future seasons? Our all-star right fielder (Bautista) is now back where he belongs, the team has someone who should be a fixture at third for many years, and when they finally move him up in the line-up to one of the power slots, he should be able to deliver even more RBIs and highlight reel moments for the faithful.

From where I’m sitting, the kid from Langley, BC is the real deal and could very likely go on to become the best player Canada has ever produced.